At this year’s Women and Power Retreat at the Omega Institute, co-founder Elizabeth Lesser affirmed that “we are here for women all over the world.” She spoke of the plight and constant struggle for justice and safety many women experience, to a largely heteronormative audience of white, middle-aged women. As the audience awaited Brene Brown and Joan Halifax Roshi to take the stage, Lesser asked the audience, listening intently, “do we really want to ‘lean in’ to the old system?”
Yet, it was this old system at play. A three-day conference whose line-up of mostly white, female speakers cost hundreds of dollars to attend. The goal was to empower women but how does the display and celebration of heteronormativity do that? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of pursuing a shift in power paradigms?
I do not want to wholly discount the retreat. I was honored to be there among so many incredible women and the environment was nurturing and special. But, when you discuss women and power, you cannot accurately do that, nor can you do justice to those working to dismantle inequality, when you do not acknowledge the institutionalized oppression, racism, classism and sexism that intersects and perpetuates the imbalance of power between women. Men aren’t the only gender guilty of participating in the patriarchy- an admission made by Brene Brown- women do it, too.
My concern with fourth wave feminism is the maintenance of old power structures. Our skin color is not our choice- but what is, is whether we can check our privilege and whiteness and recognize that a white woman will not have the same experiences as a woman of color. Attempts to popularize, stylize and rebrand feminism are perpetuating, by default of the creator’s nearsightedness, “old system” powers by portraying a thin, white woman in a suit as some sort of mascot for feminism. We don’t need mascots, gate-keepers or an internal caste system. That’s not why we’re here. In fighting the patriarchy, we cannot become the patriarchy.
In recognizing that there are serious issues in this movement, feminism cannot only be concerned with eradicating the struggles of white women. We must also work to deconstruct and dismantle racism, classism, homophobia and trans*phobia. Women are diverse and feminism must be, too, and should work to meet the needs of all women.
The strength of the sisterhood is so important. We are only as strong as our values and without the inclusion and interest of elevating all women to an equal platform, feminism will go nowhere fast.
We cannot leave any sisters behind as we solider on. We must raise our fists in defiance and demand a better future for all women. A movement that demands equality cannot succeed if it’s plagued with inequality. For if you are not for all women, you are only for yourself.